New York Times accused of anti-Charedi bias after claims about Yiddish speakers

An opinion piece also claimed Hebrew was a language which 'symbolises far-right militarism'


NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 01: Traffic drives past The New York Times building on October 1, 2014 in New York City. The Times announced plans to cut approximately 100 jobs from the newsroom today, with the company announcing it will start with buy-out packages before moving to layoffs. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The New York Times has been criticised for anti-Charedi bias after publishing a column implying that Yiddish speakers weren't multilingual

The opinion piece, written by academic Ilan Stavans, was published last Saturday and is titled ‘Yiddish Is Having a Moment’.

However Jewish figures have led a backlash to the piece, saying that it shows an anti-Charedi bias from the paper.

In his piece, Stavans claimed Orthodox Jews who speak Yiddish "aren’t multilingual, as secular Yiddish speakers always were."

But Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values which advocates for Jewish ideas and standards in matters of American public policy, accused Stavans of "being biased".

Writing for the Times of Israel, he said: “Stavans has placed his personal bias ahead of basic factual accuracy, as he tells his readers that “They [the aforementioned ‘ultra-Orthodox’] aren’t multilingual, as secular Yiddish speakers always were. A blithering idiot could do no worse.”

He later added on Twitter: “With this statement alone, Stavans demonstrates he has absolutely no knowledge of the field regarding which he pontificates. 

“The overwhelming majority of Yiddish speakers are multilingual. This means, not incidentally, that they are vastly more likely to be multilingual than readers of the @NYTimes or students at @AmherstCollege.”

Fox News Correspondent Eben Brown said: “I’m pretty sure the people of which he writes speak Yiddish, Hebrew and likely the language of the country of where they live. That’s “multi,” no?”

Another person said: “@nytimes, do you have no shame whatsoever? Just stating lies as facts? 

“The vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak Yiddish, ARE multilingual. I’m one of them and almost each ultra-Orthodox Jew you meet will be bilingual.”

In the article, Stavans also compared Hebrew and Yiddish and described the latter as a demand for “exile — a longing for home.” 

He also wrote that Zionism was an “enemy of Yiddish”, and added: “In the late 19th century, as the hope for a Jewish state found its ground, it was portrayed as jargon spoken by the diaspora — the language of homelessness.

“To combat this deficit, Hebrew needed to be revived. Soon the myth sprung of the Hebrew pioneer, in sharp contrast with the large-nosed, hunchbacked Jew that Zionists themselves vilified.”

But one person pointed out: “My father was born in 1947 to Holocaust survivors in Poland.

"Yiddish was his mother tongue. He and my grandparents made aliyah in 1948, still speaking Yiddish (i.e. "despite" being Zionists). 

“Yiddish was decimated by the Holocaust, not Zionism.”

Stavans angered others by describing Hebrew as a language that “symbolises far-right Israeli militarism”.

One person said on Twitter: “He [Stavans] is talking the language of zionists. It's an outright attempt at delegitimising Israel.”

Evan Ross added: “If you think the Hebrew language 'symbolises far-right Israeli militarism', there is a 100 per cent chance that you’re an antisemite. 

“As a @nytimes subscriber, I find this beyond reprehensible. Imagine saying Spanish or French or any other language represented 'far-right militarism'.”

Journalist Caroline Grick added: “When did the @nytimes become anti-Jewish poison? I mean, they were always bad. 

“When did they begin a policy of actively inventing and disseminating mind-bendingly hateful slanders?”

Worldwide, between 500,000 and one million people can speak Yiddish, the majority of whom also speak the official language of the area in which they live.

The New York Times has previously been accused of perpetuating negative stereotypes about ultra-Orthodox Jews, most recently after an exposé by the paper about the orthodox education system in Brooklyn.

Earlier this year, the prestigious American university Brandeis apologised to students over a controversial New York Times advert that called the school “anything but Orthodox.”

The ad — which was part of a broader branding campaign to mark the 75th anniversary of the college, read: "Brandeis was founded by Jews. But, it’s anything but orthodox."

In January this year, an Orthodox Jewish group launched a billboard campaign against the paper, claiming that they had written multiple articles targeting Charedi Jews.

The JC has approached the New York Times for comment.

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